A Sermon for the Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents

We don’t usually post entire sermons on our website, but quoting excerpts out of context just didn’t seem fitting in this case. In this sermon, found in God With Us, Pr. David Petersen offers comfort and hope on this most solemn of days when we remember the slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem, whom we fitting call the Holy Innocents.
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He came unto His own. His own received Him not. It is not merely wicked Herod. It is all of Jerusalem that rejects Him, for all of Jerusalem is deeply troubled at the coming of the wise men from the East.

The wise men want to know where the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, is to be born. They are wise by virtue of Daniel. He had prophesied in their country. He must have brought them at least some of the books of Moses, for they have Balaam’s promised sign of a star. They have seen it fulfilled. By faith, with trust that the God of Moses has fulfilled these things and provided a Savior, they come to worship the one thereby announced. But the star, for the time being, has only led them to Jerusalem, and they do not know where the Messiah is.

It seems that they did not have all of the Old Testament, that they did not have even all of the things written by the time of Daniel. In any case, they did not have Micah’s promise to Bethlehem, even though Micah predates Daniel. But it was not a great mystery as to where the Messiah was to be born for those who did. The priests were well-trained in the Scriptures. They knew all about the thirty pieces of silver and the potter’s field. They were quick to respond to the wise inquiry: “Bethlehem.”

And yet, none of those Biblical scholars followed the wise men to Bethlehem. Instead, they were troubled with Herod, and all Jerusalem with them. They were not rejoicing. They were raging, plotting. They did not want the Messiah and the necessary upset that He would bring to the world. Herod lashed out with Satanic hatred and violence unequaled in all of time, and he did so with the consent of both Jerusalem and the theologians. The boys of Bethlehem and their mothers bore the brunt of that wicked rage.

The boys gave up their lives while the fullness of God hidden in Mary’s babe slipped off in the night. What kind of a God is this who lets the babies die? What kind of a reward is this for David’s city? Where is the peace pronounced by angels to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields? Where is God’s good will toward men?

The answer is not very satisfying to our intellect: the ways of God are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. But it is satisfying to faith. And if you think that you have plumbed those depths, that you understand Him, that His ways and thoughts make sense, then you have committed idolatry. You are worshiping a figment of your imagination which you call God but who looks and thinks like you. Repent. He is not fully comprehensible and we cannot judge Him. We have no right to make demands or to insist on what seems just to us. We submit in faith and wait for His goodness to be revealed.

What we have is what He has given us. We have His Word. It is His revelation to us, His self-revealing. We can go nowhere else. In that Holy Book we are told that in this way, by the horror of Herod’s slaughter in Bethlehem, is the prophecy from Hosea fulfilled: “[O]ut of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1). That was the purpose and it is good. The boys died. Their mothers mourned and refused comfort. Jesus escaped in weakness, and in weakness He came forth again from Egypt after Herod’s death. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter without complaint or resistance, but not until the appointed time. He responded to Herod’s violence, even as He would later to Caiaphas and Pilate, with humility.

He submitted to their violence, but only of His own will, in His own time, on His own terms. God is hidden in the weakness of that infant flesh. No one forces His hand. The daring rescue of mankind that will cost Him His life cannot be thwarted, but it will only be accomplished when all things are fulfilled. In the meantime, the boys of Bethlehem are spared a life of suffering. They went early to their reward. Unlike their mothers, their hearts were never broken. They were never lonely. And thanks be to God, they never had to suffer the disabling sadness that comes from outliving one’s children.

They died that day so that Jesus might escape and return to die for them. His martyrdom is the liberating gift to the boys of Bethlehem. His life is exchanged for theirs. They seemed to die that day, but they really lived. Herod delivered them to heaven, peace, and joy without measure. Thus they praise God still, not by speaking but by dying. Their lives are empty of themselves and are filled with Him.

So it must be for each of us. The life Jesus lived, He lived for us. The death He died, He died for us. And the resurrection to which He rose, He rose for us. When we are broken upon Him, who was rejected by the appointed builders but made the chief stone by the Father in heaven, then the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is ours. He breaks us, empties us, so that He might rebuild and fill us. He slays us so that He might raise us again to life. His ways are not our ways: they are better, even when they hurt. In the end, we are the ones who are called out of Egypt and away from Pharaoh’s slavery to sin and death. He makes us weak, like children, and then in Him—only in Him, always in Him—we are strong.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11-12 KJV). The boys of Bethlehem were not abandoned. Their mothers found comfort in the wounds of Jesus who died also for them. Now they have been reunited with their sons. They will never be separated again. And already now, after maybe fifty long years of grief here on earth without their babies, they have enjoyed nearly two thousand years in perfect bliss won by Jesus with their children. Thus saith the Lord to the women of Ramah who refused comfort, “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and [thy children] shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:16 KJV). Death is not the end. The enemy loses. He does not get our children. He does not get us. Rachel is rewarded.

Thus St. Paul writes: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18 KJV).

God be praised. He does all things well.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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See also: A Hymn for Holy Innocents sung in Gregorian chant.

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The Brotherhood Prayer Book: O Antiphons

BPB-new pictureThe O Antiphons are historic antiphons designated for the Magnificat, which is the traditional canticle for Vespers. There are seven O Antiphons, sung on the seven Vespers leading up to December 24th. Three years ago, we asked Pr. Sean Daenzer to record these Antiphons sung to the Gregorian tones in The Brotherhood Prayer Book, beginning on page 397, along with the Magnificat. We’re posting them again this year with links to each one.

The order for singing this Vespers canticle is Antiphon, Magnificat, Antiphon. The name of each antiphon is derived from Old Testament titles given to the Messiah. In fact, the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” is a lyrical version of these antiphons.

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Our newest Christmas card

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The Adoration of the Shepherds is an 18th-century oil painting by German artist C.W.E. Dietrich. Originally painted in color, our black and white version allows the light emanating from the infant Christ to shine within the darkness of the stable. The inside text proclaims: “Shepherds in the field abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night, God with us is now residing, yonder shines the infant light: Come and worship Christ, the newborn King!” (a verse from “Angels from the Realms of Glory”)

Visit our Christmas cards page to have a closer look at all 10 designs! New this year: you can now create a custom assortment of our unique Christmas cards to joyously confess our Savior’s birth.

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The Brotherhood Prayer Book: Hymn for Advent 1

 

 

 

Audio: Listen to Hymn for Advent 1 chanted.

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesus, Redeemer, save us all,
Hear Thou Thy servants when they call.

Thou, sorrowing at the helpless cry
Of all creation doomed to die,
Didst save our lost and guilty race
By healing gifts of heavenly grace.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to eventide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless Victim all divine.

At Thy great Name, exalted now,
All knees in lowly homage bow;
All things in heaven and earth adore,
And own Thee King for evermore.

To Thee, O Holy One, we pray,
Our Judge in that tremendous day,
Ward off, while yet we dwell below,
The weapons of our crafty foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might and glory be
From age to age eternally. Amen.

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Conditor alme siderum. 7th cent., trans. by J.M. Neale
An excerpt from The Brotherhood Prayer Book

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Ceremony and Celebration: The Advent Wreath

candc-grid“The lighting of an Advent wreath during the Advent season is a Christian ceremony which has come down to us from about the time of Martin Luther. As before the birth of Christ the light of prophecy concerning His advent and His redemptive work became brighter and brighter, so the nearer we come in the church year to the feast of His nativity, the greater the amount of light from the Advent wreath. This ceremony is helpful for recalling, discussing, and teaching the significance of Advent.”

-Paul H. D. Lang in Ceremony and Celebration

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Pre-Advent sale on The Brotherhood Prayer Book and other titles

From now through Saturday, November 26, several of our titles are 15% off!

Cover-God With Us-new cover websiteGod With Us by David H. Petersen contains fifty-nine sermons spanning Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, including daily sermons for all of Advent. Many customers tell us that they’ve given God With Us in bulk to family and friends, since these brief sermons serve well for daily devotions. As one reviewer notes, “If you are looking for some additional spiritual refreshment this Advent through Epiphany seasons, this is a perfect combination of brevity and potency, of meditation and instruction, but most of all, of our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to save us from our sins!”front-cover-600px

In The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life, Wilhelm Löhe gives insight into the confessional Lutheran understanding of the church year, the Word of God, and matters related to the Christian life: faith, prayer, fellowship, worship, creation, and hope. Especially appropriate for this time of the church year are the readings for Advent, Christmas, the New Year (the circumcision of Christ), and Epiphany.

The Brotherhood Prayer Book and its accompanying CD are also on sale. The Brotherhood Prayer Book includes services for the day (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vepsers, and Compline), the entire Psalter, daily and seasonal propers, and a Beichtspiegel.

A Beichtspiegel (confession mirror) is a tool used for reflection and self-examination in preparation for private confession and absolution or for the general confession and absolution in the Divine Service. The Beichtspiegel offered free in our Downloads tab is published in The Brotherhood Prayer Book. The text was compiled in 2003 by Rev. Michael Frese and Dr. Benjamin Mayes, using resources from confessional pastors in both the LCMS and the SELK in Germany.

The season of Advent is a particular time of preparation for Christians. In baptism, our Lord Jesus Christ began in us a living faith, and we return to its promise every time we confess our sins and receive forgiveness. Thus, the purpose of a Beichtspiegel is to help us reflect upon our individual sins and lead us to the soothing balm of the absolution. True repentance is both sorrow over sin and faith in Christ’s forgiveness.

A Beichtspiegel helps us to consider our sins according to the Ten Commandments. It is forgiveness that we Christians seek, not a perfect and exhaustive confession, yet it is salutary to be able to better understand and articulate in what ways and how often we sin. Examining ourselves is not merely for the purpose of causing shame over our wretched sinfulness, but to focus us on the only source of comfort: Jesus.

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Welcome, Listeners of Issues, Etc.!

holy-family-frontIf you’ve found our website after hearing the commercial on Issues, Etc., we want to thank you for stopping by! Feel through to peruse the tabs above to learn more about our history and the books and greeting cards we offer. Several of our cards are pictured here; please visit our Christmas cards page for a closer look at all of the designs.

“The Holy Family” (left), an original painting by Lutheran artist Kelly Klages, is based on a beautiful 19th-century stained glass.adoration-800px

Our newest card, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” (right), is an 18th-century oil painting by German artist C.W.E. Dietrich. Originally painted in color, our black and white version allows the light emanating from the infant Christ to shine within the darkness of the stable.

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In “Magnificat” (left), artist Meghan Schultz paired the depiction of Mary and Jesus (from “The Virgin of the Lilies” by 19th-century artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau) with hand-lettered words from the Song of Mary. She also added hand-drawn fleur-de-lis in the corners as a nod to Bouguereau’s French heritage and the lilies in his original piece, symbolic of Mary. The text inside features a verse from the beloved hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

illumination-front“Illumination” (left) is another original painting from Kelly Klages featuring the style of an illuminated manuscript with its decorated initial and elaborate border.

The artwork from “Nativity” (right) comes from theNativity cover final-600px Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Germany. These Nazarene-style frescos were painted in the cathedral’s interior walls in the mid-1800s by Johann von Schraudolph at the behest of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The city of Speyer is significant in Reformation history; adherents of the Reformation were first called Protestants when they protested the Holy Roman Empire’s ban against Martin Luther and his teachings at an Imperial Diet in Speyer in 1529.

Thank you for visiting, and be sure to visit our Christmas cards page for a look at all of the cards and more details about the artwork.

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Seed-Grains of Prayer: Longings for a Quiet and Peaceable Life

seed-grains-grid“Dear Lord, how miserably unreasonable it is that while the kingdoms of this world flourish and are sustained by the prayers of Thy Church, yet, at the same time, these do oppress and recklessly tread under foot Thy poor Church by whose prayers, faithfully offered, they are helped. For it is the Church alone, O God, whom Thou hast commanded to exercise care and diligence to pray for all in authority, as St. Paul has counseled (1 Timothy 2); and Thou hast so commanded because man needs peace, order, discipline, and safety to spread Thy Word, and by the Word to gather the Church. Grant, therefore, beloved Father, that under our government we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty, as may be well pleasing to Thee. Amen.”

Wilhelm Loehe in Seed Grains of Prayer, #242

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The Word Remains: All Saints’ Day

“Therefore, take comfort: it is not all over for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord! They are merely sleeping. He who by His own death-sleep in the grave sanctified our graves as mere bedrooms stands even now at the deathbed, calling, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden!’ And when He lays them in the dust of death, He says, ‘I will give you rest!’ and ‘Here you will find rest.’ And if death is sleep, then each of the dead have the hope of resurrection.”

-an excerpt from The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life by Wilhelm Löhe

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The Word Remains: Festival of the Reformation

front-cover400px-max“The Reformation, my friends, what was it? We know what the Church looked like before it, but what was it really? Judge whether this is true. I say, it was a time when the Lord went into His temple, braided a whip of cords, and cleansed His courts.

“Yes, the Reformation was a cleansing of the temple. Or is that not so? Where now do we have all that indulgence nonsense, masses for the dead, sacrifices of the mass, works-righteousness, and all the endless supply of worthless trinkets? That whole business was overthrown and swept out. The Word of the Lord drove into it like a punishing whip and put an end to the spiritual torment, the heavy yoke laid on by men and yet not humanly possible, but unbearable. The Word of the Lord burst in and overturned the chaos of self-interest, the marketplace of self- and works-righteousness. And the one who remained in the temple was the Lord with His apostles and disciples, with His sweet Gospel.”

-an excerpt from The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life by Wilhelm Löhe (pp. 36-37)

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